On Tuesday, as I drove home from work, I came THISCLOSE to being in a serious car wreck. It was one of those “life flashing before my eyes” moments, and it left me shaky for more than an hour after.
It was 100% the other driver’s fault — and it was an egregious traffic error on his/her part. The driver exited a parking lot, crossed two lanes of traffic (including mine) and darted against the oncoming cars to make an illegal u-turn. It was nuts. And it happened so fast that all I could do was instinctively hit the brakes, swerve and lay on my horn. I’m not sure the driver saw me until that loud blast of noise. Whether he/she was drunk, distracted or just made an innocent misjudgment, I don’t know. But it was as close a call as I’ve had in a long time.
We somehow — miraculously — managed to stop our cars just in time, each of us choosing the right way to swerve, coming to a stop parallel to each other and perpendicular to the road markings. As I caught my breath, the other driver took off…going over the median just to get to the other side of the divided road.
I’m not immune to driving mistakes. I was in a terrible accident years ago and nearly totaled my car. Everyone was OK, but I was at fault, no question. The conditions were bad, it was very early in the morning, the other driver didn’t have her headlights on and I turned into her car, failing to yield. My car spent three months in the shop and I rode my bike to work every day. Lesson learned. Look twice, turn once.
And sure, I have, in the past, checked my email at red lights and glanced at text messages when I should have had all of my attention on the road. In the last year, I have made a very concerted effort to put the phone away and keep my eyes on the road, but I understand the itchy need to hit refresh on a smartphone inbox…
In this case, I did everything right. The phone was on vibrate and tucked away. The radio was on but not too loud. I was going just under the speed limit. The conditions were beautiful. I had my eyes up and my ears open. And I still almost had a very bad day.
So be careful out there, OK? I’m brought back to my first days of driving, when my dad would explain to me that being a defensive driver might save my life someday. That day might have been Tuesday. We’re all driving 2-ton deadly weapons, so if this can be a reminder to put the phone down, keep your head up and look twice, turn once…I hope it keeps you safe.